Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Beauty Academy of Kabul


A parade of American stylists and hairdressers waltzes through what seems to be the only 4-walled building complete with fresh paint, large windows, and mannequin heads in all of Kabul. Two by two, with their more intense Afghan teaching partners who are women returning to the battered country more than 20 years after fleeing, the teachers orchestrate a three-month beauty school training program for Afghan hairdressers and make-up artists.

A friend was angered after the Q/A with Liz Mermin last night at the Angelika. He complained about the insensitivity of the audiences' questions about, well, cultural insensitivity. Several people asked Mermin if the American stylists transplanted to Afghanistan to teach perming, hair cutting and how to use dangerous chemicals to make women beautiful were given cultural sensitivity training before they started

The film is a technical and storytelling coup. Even the cultural insensitivity that raised questions and the audience insensitivity ("people in Q and As always end up telling the filmmaker the film they should have made" was more or less his complaint) becomes endearing and quirky. In fact, apparently Debbie (a heavy-set neon red-haired stylist from indiana who on her first day chastizes the afghan women for not wearing make-up) is alive and well in Afghanistan - three years later - and married to an Afghan.

This film is a special window onto kabul, complete with the odd war-atrocities story in addition to the shiny-happy-people who are finding their salvation (emotional, intellectual, and even economic) in a perming rod.